It’s that time of year again…the time where any innocent errand to the grocery store can unexpectedly turn into a serious yard-saling expedition because I can’t ever seem to resist those little neon arrows along the way. This springy weekend felt like the official start of yard sale season, and I won’t lie- I absolutely love it. A quick trip to the store for milk turned into the kids yelling from the backseat “Turn here!! Turn here!” at every sign, no doubt in hope of new Beanie Babies or a pair of fancy white gloves. Well this time it was Mamma’s turn to hit the jackpot.
At garage sales I’m like a hawk honing in on it’s prey…eyes darting through the old Tupperware and pilled sweaters, skimming past the old kitchen chairs and charity t-shirts until BOOM. I spot the glimmer of something beautiful.
Lying there in all their hand-pieced, hand-quilted, floral feed sack glory were two gorgeous 1930s quilts, a pillow, and a Christmas tree skirt. I tried to play it cool as I casually asked the hostess how much she wanted for them. Sure, the quilts were worn…some patches were damaged, and the bindings were almost completely worn off leaving raw, frayed edges, but the beauty was undeniable.
“Those old quilts? How about $10 for all four?”, she said.
At that point, I pretty much picked my jaw up off the floor, tossed a couple of Beanie Babies onto the pile, slapped some cash in her hand and ran (and by ran, I mean fastened four child car seats, dispersed snack and beverages to a tired, whiny mob, and coolly sailed off in my Cheerio-dust-powered spaceship).
The truth is, I don’t need more quilts. I have quilts on every bed, stacked in closets, folded over chair backs, hanging on walls, and draped over railings. My decor style is whimsical farmhouse cottage with an extreme emphasis on quilts, but the truth is, my love for them comes from a much deeper place.
I’m not a collector…I think of myself as more of a quilt keeper. A keeper of quilts. Like an innkeeper, gatekeeper, zookeeper– I see something of value, something worth appreciating, worth enjoying, worth protecting, and so I take it in and give it a loving home where I know it will get all of those things.
I respect how personal a quilt is…or any handmade item, really. I know how much work and heart goes into craft. When I see something like an old quilt, it’s like I’m eight years old again, hunched over for hours upon hours in my room, making something…a pillow, beaded earrings, a quilt…whatever it was at the moment. I remember feeling overjoyed with fulfillment at what I had conceived in my mind and made with my hands. How utterly wonderful it felt to put so much work into something, to truly love what I saw, and to hope, crave really, that the person I’d made it for (because it was always a gift) would see how special it was also, and would cherish it. Maybe there’s a sixth love language– handmade. It’s different than the language of gifts, but perhaps a sub-category of it. I would absolutely pour my heart into making something that made my heart sing, and then I would give it to someone as an expression of love.
So when I see a quilt, or other handmade work like an embroidery sampler or a painting, that’s unwanted, a little piece of my heart breaks. I know that it’s just fabric or paint or yarn, but to me, handmade was (and is) sacred because that’s how I communicated love growing up. I expressed myself through handcraft and, I think that deep in my heart I wanted my art to be loved because I wanted to feel loved , and I wanted others to feel loved also so it was almost as if the item was an extension of myself. Not just a functional object or a pretty thing to look at, but a piece of my heart. The connection felt so tangible to me as a child, that on the flip side, a rejection by someone of what I had made, would feel like a rejection of me (which is one reason I don’t enter quilts in judged shows). Somehow the two are inseparably linked- my heart and my craft. I don’t dare invite someone to critique it or rank it as better or worse than another.
I know this post will sound mushy or overly dramatic to some, which is part of the reason it took me over a week to hit the publish button. I know that my personality type plays a huge role in my perspective, and admittedly I’m a little sensitive about, well, being so sensitive (shocker). I’m an ENFJ (on the Myers Briggs scale)- a rare type (I’m told) who’s always experiencing the world through strong emotions and personal connections, and in some ways sensing and feeling the emotions of others (often to a fault). I remember deep, burdensome guilt as a child when I played with some toys more than others. How hurtful of me to love this toy more than that one, I thought. It felt like I was breaking the hearts of those less-played-with toys, so to compensate, I would go out of my way to try and make them feel extra loved…maybe bring them along for a road trip even though they weren’t my favorite. Even the ugly (to me) dolls, were precious- perhaps even extra precious- because I was so concerned about their feelings.
I know –toys don’t have feelings, and neither do quilts– but their makers do, and I think that’s what it comes down to for me. My deep need to appreciate and savor handmade things is because they are tied to people. And not just to people, but to their deepest, most honest place– the place they might not even be able to put into words, but where they craved to be loved.
I don’t know any of the makers of the quilts in my home (other than the ones that I’ve made). Some are family heirlooms and some are from thrift stores or garage sales, but it doesn’t matter either way. Just like the relationship I had with my dolls as a young girl, these makers don’t need to be able tell me how much their quilts meant to them- I can feel it. I feel their joy and accomplishment in that beautiful finished work (even if the beauty seems below the surface). And I feel pain in seeing their work on a tarp next to worn shoes and exercise equipment.
My love for handmade is deeper than pretty stitching or happy colors. It’s deeper than a love for vintage style. It’s my heart saying, ‘I see your heart, and it’s a treasure.’ It’s important. It’s worthy. It’s precious. It’s one-of-a-kind. It’s you. And as my sweet grandma always used to say, ‘I love you, a bushel & a peck.’